The Lord beckons…
Nearly 20 years ago, I motored down the Coromandel-coast for a family holiday. As we entered the Cauvery delta we were seduced by a beautiful temple standing behind the lush green paddy fields. Tirukadiyur was not on our tour plan, but it seemed that my steering wheel was pulled by the temple. It was a one-street village and the temple had not yet become so “popular”. The villagers told us, this is where senior citizens pray for a long(er) and healthy life. We were still young, and prayer was not even in our minds. We marveled at the superb architecture, ate delicious food on the Thinnai of the only eatery (an old thatched cottage) and felt good.
After I had retired, a religious friend advised me to seek divine blessings at Tirukadaiyur temple. We drove down like before, but things had changed in the village. The temple was no longer visible from the highway — commercial buildings obscured it; the “Thinnai” eatery had vanished and instead, many high rise hotels had sprung up. Yet, the charm of the temple endured.
The temple is truly a gift of our ancestors. We are not sure who built it and when. It is considered older than CE 985. But we have stone inscriptions in the temple recording the sanction of grants and the commissioning of maintenance work — this gives us an idea how many great kings nurtured it! Patrons include: Cholas– Rajaraja I & II , Rajendra, Vijayarajendra, Rajadhiraja, VeeraRajendra, Kulothunga I & III and Vikrama; Pandyas– Sundara, Jatavarma Veera, Maaravarma Kulasekhara; KrishnaDevaRaya, arguably the greatest king of Vijayanagar Dynasty; and even an anonymous Srilankan king, whose poem is carved in the third Gopuram. The list looks like “VIPs of Tamilnadu” in the last 1000 years! The Maratha King Serfoji was also a patron of this temple and there is a lovely story around him (see my post The story of Abirami Bhattar of Tirukadaiyur). Dynasties changed over the centuries but their approach to culture and religion were remarkably similar: they were wise enough to allot agricultural lands to the temple so that it became self-supporting and not affected by governmental whims. It is as though they foresaw the pitfalls of the current governmental way of running religious institutions (I will not say more for fear of clouding this article with political debate). The Dharmapuram Adeenam (a religious mutt) which owns the temple manages over 2600 acres of land and some houses and shops. This funds the maintenance of the huge temple.
The Temple’s presiding deity is Amrutaghateswarar (Siva) and his consort is Abirami (Parvati). Equally famous is Kaalasamhara Murthy (Siva). There is also a special Ganesha called Kallavaarana Pillaiyar.There are also smaller manifestations of Siva: Papavimochanar (one who frees from sin), Punyavardhanar (one who enhances divine grace) and Vilvavaneswarar (Lord of the Vilva or Bael Orchard)
So why is the temple popular among geriatrics? For this you must understand the folklore (read The God of Geriatrics -II).
The best way to reach Tirukadaiyur is by road – it is approximately 280 Km from Chennai by NH45 & 45A. Like I said, there are many hotels in the village now. Services are modest but reasonable and so are the prices. All hotels have a check out time of 4 pm, as this is synchronised with the Temple timings. On auspicious days the crowds are large, and you may not get reservations. You could stay in nearby towns like Vaidheeswaran koil, Mayavaram or Kumbakonam. There is also a costly luxury hotel in the erstwhile Dutch colony of Tranquebar (Tarangambadi), a few Kms away.
Thinnai = raised platform for sitting in the verandah of street houses
Gopuram= Tower like structure at the entrance of a temple